Wilton aims to beef up storm preparations
WILTON — In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias, officials are taking preemptive steps to increase the town’s storm resiliency.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice presented to the Board of Selectmen a number of ideas and strategies for how the town can independently deal with future power and cable outages.
Wilton, like most of the state, was hit hard on Aug. 4 by Isaias, which knocked out power to more than 70 percent of the town. For many homes, it took longer than one week for Eversource to restore electricity. Optimum cable services were also disrupted for an extended period of time.
The severity of the storm caught Vanderslice and others by surprise, she said, so she decided not to close town hall early that day in order to allow the town clerk’s office to work on the Aug. 11 presidential preference primaries.
But downed trees and utility wires from the storm’s raging winds brought everything to a halt. Fallen trees and branches caused nearly 100 obstructions and blocked roadways along with the resulting power outages.
“Everyone was running 24/7 and calls were coming in all night long,” Vanderslice said about town emergency staff and crews.
A hot spot was set up outside town hall and tables were set up outside Comstock Community Center for residents to access Wi-Fi. A cooling station was later set into operation for residents needing relief from the summer heat.
In light of the recent storm-related issues, the town could take a more proactive approach to increase its storm resiliency, Vanderslice said.
She plans on proposing a town ordinance to facilitate the removal of diseased or potentially dying trees, and regulate the planting of new trees within the town right-of-way at a specified distance of utility wires.
She said the town has allowed some residents to plant trees up against the road, and in some cases, the town’s subdivision plans require it. But that’s a big source of problems when a storm knocks down trees and power lines. Lower-growing trees are not a concern, she said, and they can be planted closer to the road.
Wilton’s Tree Committee, she suggested, could investigate incentives for tree removal by private property owners. She asked Selectman Josh Cole if he would work with the Tree Committee on those incentives, and he agreed.
A number of residents have asked if Wilton could utilize a different power generating source, Vanderslice said. So she is asking the town’s Energy Commission to investigate the feasibility of constructing a municipal utility, as an alternative to Eversource.
Selectwoman Deborah McFadden said she has lived in communities out West that were serviced by smaller energy cooperatives and she volunteered to work with the Energy Commission on that research.
The town is also taking part in an investigation being conducted by Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) into storm responses by Eversource and United Illuminating, the state’s other energy supplier.
Despite Eversource’s issuance of an advance press release saying it was prepared for storm Isaias, state and local officials were frustrated that it took days for some Eversource crews to even begin the power restoration process.
The town of Wilton was granted intervenor status in PURA’s investigation, and Vanderslice said she intends to testify at one of the investigation’s public hearings, which are scheduled for Oct. 22 and Oct. 23. The town is also requesting sanctions and/or penalties against Eversource.
In addition, Vanderslice mentioned a draft bill in the works in the state legislature which would switch Eversource to a “performance-based” model designed to limit increases in rates and force the company to be more responsive to outages.
Vanderslice also plans to look into improving and expanding wireless and cellular service coverage in Wilton. The town is going to seek and encourage investments from various wireless/cellular carriers, she said.
She is also working with other area towns that, like Wilton, have Optimum as their predominant cable company. She plans to ask PURA to investigate Optimum for its lengthy storm response.